Backlash over 'IRA kneecapped gays' comment - but senator Norris stands by claim
A claim the Provisional IRA "kneecapped people for being gay" has been met with an angry backlash, but the man behind the comment says he was "speaking the truth" to highlight how attitudes had changed over recent years.
Prominent gay rights activist and Irish politician David Norris made the claim at the launch of the first LGBT History Festival 'OUTing the Past' at Belfast City Hall.
BBC journalist Johnny Caldwell reported the Irish senator's remarks.
In reaction many derided the claim as "total fiction" with some highlighting how gay activists had in the past supported the republican movement.
Sinn Fein's Alex Maskey described the comments as "reprehensible".
"Shame on David whatever the agenda," he tweeted.
However, Senator Norris stood by his comments saying he was illustrating how attitudes had changed and were more progressive.
I used to respect David for standing up for rights but his remarks yesterday are simply reprehensible. Shame on David whatever the agenda https://t.co/84M8ZHa2ef— Alex Maskey (@AlexMaskeySF) February 17, 2018
Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, west Belfast MLA Mr Maskey added: "I found the claim quite pathetic for a man of David Norris's age and intellect.
"To introduce an idea like that ... it's a contemptuous statement to make quite frankly.
"There is no basis for it whatsoever and to introduce the likes of that would have not expected from David Norris.
"I have had a lot of respect for David in terms of the courage he showed in standing up for gay rights and whatever reason he has said this I just find it incredulous and I would have expected more from him.
"And that's all I have to say on the matter."
A contemptuous statement to make quite frankly. Alex Maskey
OUTing the past is the first ever LGBT festival of its kind to be held anywhere on the island of Ireland. It was held in Belfast as part of LGBT history month and organised by the community organisation Cara-Friend.
Senator David Norris has campaigned for gay rights and was instrumental in the decriminalisation of homosexuality in the Republic after taking a case through the domestic courts and all the way to the European Court of Human Rights.
He said he was speaking of the changes in attitudes in Ireland toward those in the LGBT community.
"Which I welcome by the way," he told the Belfast Telegraph.
"Sinn Fein have in recent years transformed their opinions - they have been very vocal and very supportive and it's a good thing and I welcome their progressive stance.
"But I remember the darks days as it were and the first thing I should says is I was talking about 30 years ago, or more."
People forget it was not that long ago that being gay was a criminal offence. David Norris
He added: "I can only go on what I know and I have a very strong recollection of people coming through Dublin, from Derry to get to London and we helped them.
"They wore badges, which said in Irish 'gay liberation' and they had been bullied, intimidated and yes kneecapped. They were frightened and they had to leave.
"Now, I don't know if those behind it may have been acting as freelance but at that time the provisional movement was very anti-gay. And indeed I remember people who were in the provisional movement shouting homophobic remarks at me.
"But people were beaten for being gay."
Asked about the reaction of those that said the claim made at the festival was "fiction", Mr Norris added: "That's just too bad.
"People forget it was not that long ago that being gay was a criminal offence. Young people will have no recollection of what it was like and how the provisional movement acted.
"But I remember it very well.
"I was telling the truth, I was discussing history and there is no point discussing history as a fudge. Things have moved on and it is important to highlight that. Things are a lot more progressive."
Mr Norris paid tribute to those who organised the festival and remarked on how impressed he was with Belfast.
"The festival was marvellous, it was very heartening to hear from members of the PSNI and Belfast is such a cosmopolitan city."
On the block on same-sex marriage rights in Northern Ireland, he added: "The unionists need to realise they are outlanders on this issue. It is terribly silly that every other part of the UK allows marriage and not Northern Ireland. It is ridiculous.
"But the work continues. It is about changing attitudes and the atmosphere that was once one about fear, shame and discrimination toward equality."
Belfast Telegraph Digital